Official Name: The State of Israel
Form of Rule: parliamentary democracy
Capital City: Jerusalem
Area: 21,643 square kilometers
Population: 9 million residents (2018 estimation)
Distribution by Religion: 76.5% Jews, 16% Muslims, 2% Christians, 1.5% Druze, 4% others
Official Languages: Hebrew, Arabic
Currency: New Israeli Shekel
Quality of Life Classification: 22nd place in the world GDP Per Capita: 32,312 (2012 estimation)
International Dialing Code: 972
Internet Suffix: .co.il
Location: In the Middle East, on the narrow region connecting Africa and Asia. The State is built upon most of the region known as the Land of Israel.

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The riches of the Land of Israel are manifold, combining breathtaking beauty, long and profound histories and superb modernity’s, enabling perfect rest and relaxation conditions and allowing you to have a once in a lifetime holiday.

Thanks to its relative small size, Israeli locations are all fairly accessible, with Eilat perhaps being the one exception. As you visit Israel, you’ll start to realize that you are in fact traveling between layers of history, starting with ancient crusader castles, through ports which were temporary homes to many a seaman, pilgrim and famous traveler; continuing with desert landscapes that housed nomadic tribes, semi-forgotten armies and merchants riding in camel caravans; to magnificent tombs of sheikhs, impressive domes, silent monasteries and unique synagogues decorated colorfully by mosaics.

The Land of Israel during the Biblical Period

The first to settle the Land of Israel were the Canaanite tribes and they continued to be its principal inhabitants up until the second millennium BC. As early on as this point in time, the country was already providing a meeting place for many different cultures, as it shared borders with Egypt to the south and Assyria, Mesopotamia and Asia Minor to the north and east. During this era, several nomadic tribes had begun to descend upon the country, amongst them the Philistines, who originated from the Aegean area and settled in Israel’s southern coastal plain, as well as the Hebrew people, whose origins lay in Mesopotamia and who mainly settled around the hills.

The latter, who were also known as the Sons of Israel, lived within a framework of twelve tribes and they eventually united into one nation towards the end of the second millennium BC by the man who became the first Israeli king, Saul. He was succeeded by King David, who expanded the country’s borders and turned Jerusalem, which had previously been a Jebusite city, into the kingdom’s capital. It was at this spot that his son and successor, King Solomon, built the Temple where the Holy Ark was to be kept. Following the death of King Solomon, the Israeli kingdom was divided in two, with the majority of the tribes setting up the Kingdom of Israel in the north while the remaining minority established the Kingdom of Judea in and around the Jerusalem mountains. During the year 721 BC, the Kingdom of Israel was conquered and destroyed by the Assyrian Empire; its tribal inhabitants were sent into exile and their fate is still unknown, earning them the intriguing title of “lost”. The kingdom of Judea survived only to be conquered by the Babylonian Empire in the year 586 BC, leading to the destruction of the Temple as the People of Israel were sent into their first Babylonian exile.

The Roman and Byzantine Period

During the year 539 BC, the Babylonian Empire was conquered by the Persian one and the exiles from the Kingdom of Judea were allowed to return to the Land of Israel. Jerusalem’s ruins were re-constructed and the Second Temple was erected on the same spot where the First Temple had stood. Around the year 333 BC, the Persian Empire, including the Land of Israel, was taken over by Alexander the Great from Macedonia, and in the year 66 BC it was conquered by Roman armies led by their famous general, Pompey. In the following 200 years, the land was ruled by Roman-appointed Jewish kings and it served as a Roman vassal state. These were difficult times. In the year 70 AD, a failed Jewish rebellion led to the destruction of the Second Temple and during the year 135 AD the Jews who lived in this land were sent into another exile as punishment for an additional rebellion. Jerusalem’s destruction was far more extensive this time around, and upon its ruined foundations, a Roman city was set up.

It was under Roman rule that Jesus, known as the Christian messiah, son of God and founder of the Christian Faith, was born, yet it took 300 years until Christianity was decreed legitimate within the Roman Empire, as its eastern and western parts separated and the former became Byzantium.

Later on, Christianity was upgraded from a legitimate religion to the Empire’s official one and with this new status, the importance of Israel as the Holy Land also developed. The country became a destination for pilgrimages and a multitude of building projects set out to fill the city and land with churches and monasteries. As part of this building enterprise, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem were built. Remains of the era’s building can be seen at such sites as Ovdat, Capernaum, Khamat Gader and Latroun.

The Struggle between Muslims and Crusaders

During the year 640 AD, The Muslim Caliph, Omar, was next to conquer the land and thus usher in the period of Muslim rule here. This led to the opening of new communication channels between the east and the west, as various goods, religious art and cultural and scientific knowledge began to flow between these two worlds and mutual enrichment was enabled.

It was from Jerusalem that, in accordance with Muslim tradition, the Prophet Mohammed ascended his way into heaven and it is this journey that earned the city its perception as being the third holiest to Islam. During the first years of Arab control, Christians were free to enter Jerusalem. This fact was modified starting with the 11th century, prompting Pope Urban II to summon believers and call for a crusade to liberate the Holy Land from the Muslims.

The year 1099 AD marked the end of The first crusade as Jerusalem was captured by the Crusaders. The following era saw the country become one of the most important commercial centers of the world, connecting routes of commerce from China, India, Madagascar and Africa to markets in Europe. The crusader towns became meeting points for Muslim and Armenian Christian merchants with their European counterparts. The remnants of these crusader cities can be viewed in Akko, Caesarea, Jerusalem, Latroun and Kil’at Namroud.

For all of its importance, this era did not continue for long. In the year 1187 AD, the crusader armies were defeated by Saladin in the battle of Karnei Khitin. The crusaders went on to lose successive battles which ended with their final defeat to the Mamluks in the battle of Akko, the last stronghold under their control, in 1291 AD. Despite their victories, the Mamluks couldn’t stop the country’s diminished stature and importance in the fields of economy and politics. This was only furthered following the Ottoman conquest of 1517. The Land of Israel was now a backwater in the Ottoman Empire and except for very few pilgrims of the three Abrahamic religions, traffic and commerce between east and west declined.

From the British Mandate to the creation of the State of Israel

Another turning point from the perspective of the country’s importance came when Napoleon conquered it in 1799 AD. His eastern campaign revealed to the west how great the country’s strategic and economic importance was – a process that led to increased European involvement in the region. New routes of communication, commerce and travel started to be set up and Christian diverse missionary institutions were being built all across the country. More pilgrims began to visit and Jews once more started to immigrate to Israel.

Coupled with additional events, this led to increasing interest in the country, which peaked when the British were given in 1918 a mandate to rule the land at the end of the World War I.

Exactly thirty years later, in 948, the British Mandate came to its ending and the modern State of Israel was founded. Its establishers stated in the Declaration of Independence: “The State of Israel will be open to the immigration of Jews and for the Ingathering of the Exiles from all countries of their dispersion; will promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace… will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture; will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the shrines and Holy Places of all religions…”

The State of Israel, which was set up at the meeting point of continents, history and cultures, is a perfect embodiment of this rich web of cultures. Its population includes diverse people and religions, as well as religious and secular individuals of all faiths, Arab Muslims and Arab Christians, Druze, Bedouins, Circassians, Samaritans and Jews from no less than 70 Diasporas, spanning from East to Western Europe, North Africa, Asia, as well as North and South America. The people have settled all over the country, starting with the Negev, Arava, Galilee and even the coastal plain, while their modes of settlement included moshavim, kibbutzim, vivacious cities and quiet villages busily engaged in industry and commercial efforts, farming and scientific research. All of these put together, cultures, peoples and religions, have come to create a rich tapestry filled with tradition, beliefs and customs that embody the holy and the secular, past with present, east and west.

Unsurprisingly, Israel is quite the modern country with highly developed medical capacities and levels of hygiene and health care equal to those of all other evolved countries. Tourists to the land are not asked to undergo any vaccinations before their scheduled arrival.

Arriving in the country with pet animals, however, is limited by certain restrictions. As long as they are being brought in personally by their owners (marked by travel companies as personal baggage), then cats, dogs, rabbits, birds and rodents (except for wild animals and limited to two only of each species) are exempt from having to get a veterinary permit, issued by the Veterinary Services of the Ministry of Agriculture, so long as they also meet the following requirements:

1.A government veterinary health certificate has been issued for them less than seven days before they have left their country of departure, thus testifying that the pet was examined and decreed to have no known infectious diseases. The animal must also have a declaration by its owner that it was in their care and possession for at least 90 days prior to their arrival in Israel.

2.Cats and dogs must have additional confirmation for having been vaccinated against rabies during a period ranging between a minimal thirty days to a maximal one year before they departed for Israel. Dogs which arrive from Oceania, Japan, Great Britain or Cyprus are also required to undergo a vaccination against rabies within five days of arriving in Israel.

3.Cats and dogs which are below the minimal vaccination age (three months) cannot be brought into Israel.

If importing animals as personal baggage, then the transmission of the following information to the Veterinary Services is required. They are situated at Beit Dagan (Fax number: +972-3-968-8963) and the transmission must take place at least forty eight hours before arriving in Israel. The needed information includes the owner’s name; the type of animal; its age; the flight number as well as the estimated time of arrival. In the majority of cases, pets which have arrived healthy and with all of the required documentation do not need to undergo a quarantine period once they’ve arrived in Israel.

The population of Israel is estimated to be about 9.1 million people.

It is most prominently characterized by an unprecedented diversity. The country’s inhabitants can be mainly divided into Jews (about 76%) and Arabs (16%) with an additional possible subdivision relating primarily to countries of origin. The Jewish population can also be divided into religious and secular; with the latter including various immigrant communities of varying cultural preservation degrees. In a similar manner, the Arab community in Israel can divided into groups of Christians, Muslims and Druze. The country has several small religious groups defined by ethnicity or religion, this most notably includes the Circassians and the Samaritans, as well as minor Christian communities originating in Europe such as the German community of Beit El residing in Zikhron Ya’akov.

An additional interesting characteristic of the Israeli population is its rapid growth rate, atypical for a developed country. Since the State was established, the number of its citizens has increased almost tenfold, due mainly to waves of Jews immigrating from countries all around the world. Nowadays, the country is a densely populated one, despite the fact that large parts of it are thinly settled. The population also averages as young (the median age is estimated to be 28.3 years), while the infant mortality rate is considered to be rather low (5.8 deaths for every 1000 births) and the overall life expectancy is a high one (78.7 years).

 

Israel’s Jewish Inhabitants

In1948, at the height of its War of Independence (which spanned from 1947 to 1949), the State of Israel was established. This signified the resolution of a long process during which Jews from around the world had begun returning to their historical homeland. Indeed, since it was founded, around 2.7 million Jewish people have immigrated to Israel from over 130 countries. These ongoing waves of immigration have left their indelible mark on the country’s demography, politics and society.

While immense, this growth in Jewish numbers cannot be said to have been uniform. Rather, it has occurred over four main waves of Aliya (the Hebrew word noting the immigration of Jews to the Land of Israel). Between the years 1948 and 1951, Israel has absorbed around 700,000 Jewish immigrants and a result of this was the fact that its population was thus doubled. In the middle of the 1950s, an additional 170,000 Jews immigrated to Israel from North Africa and Romania. In the beginning of the 1960s, another 180,000 people arrived from North African countries. In the early 1990s, about 900,000 immigrants came from the former USSR countries and yet another 60,000 had arrived from Ethiopia.

Due to this profusion of different countries of origin, the Jewish people in Israel are quite varied. Since the State was established, its different governments had adopted a “melting pot” ideology-driven policy. Despite this, many immigrant groups in the country have preserved their cultural traditions to varying degrees. At the same time, the percentage of native-born Israelis (known as “sabers”) has been gradually growing and today this group represents the majority of Israeli Jews (65%). This continuous process, together with an increased rate of intermarriage among people from the various Jewish communities (defined by the different countries of origin) and the growing influence of Western culture, have created a gradual blurring when it comes to the differences between those varying Jewish communities.

Jews in Israel can also be split into sub-divisions based on their different level of religious observance: the Ultra-Orthodox make up 12% of the Jewish population, religious Jews make up 10%, those defining themselves as traditional – 35% and secular people account for 43% of Israel’s Jews.

 

Israel’s Non-Jewish Inhabitants

While the country is a home to many non-Jewish groups, the largest one is Arabs, who represent about one fifth of the country’s population. Most of them live in Arab settlements across the Galilee, the eastern coastal plain and in the north of the Negev Desert. They also make up for big parts of the population in several cities such as Jerusalem, Haifa, Akko and Ramle.

The biggest fraction among Israel’s Arabs are the Sunnite Muslims, with only a tenth of Israeli Arabs being Christians (and of those, most are members of the Greek-Orthodox Church). Other fractions include the Bedouins, Muslim Arabs who have conducted a nomadic way of life in the desert for generations, yet nowadays they live in permanent residencies, scattered mainly across the northern Negev. The Druze are a religion who originated and separated from Islam, yet ethnically they are also Arabs.

 

A few other prominent ethnic and religious groups in the country include:

The Druze: they are members of a religion which had developed from the Shiite section of Islam back in the 11th century and whose followers are spread out across Syria, Lebanon and Israel. Around 115,000 Druze live in Israel nowadays, in 17 settlements found on Mount Carmel, in the Galilee and on the Golan Heights.

The Circassians: these people are religiously Muslim, yet ethnically non-Arab and they originate from the Caucasus. When their country had been conquered by the Russians back in the 19th century, many had immigrated to the Ottoman Empire, and so some of them had arrived in the Land of Israel, establishing here the villages of Rikhaniya and Kafr Kama.

The Samaritans: of an origin closely related to that of Jews, there are members of a national-religious community, which had developed in the Land of Israel following the Assyrian conquest and destruction of the Kingdom of Israel. The Assyrians had exiled the majority and more influencing people of that kingdom and those who were left behind in the land had subsequently mixed with exiles from other conquered nations who were settled in Israel and the region by the Assyrians. Back in antiquity, this community was a large and powerful one. However, several failed rebellions during the Byzantine Empire’s time along with pressure exerted by the neighboring Muslims to convert and take on the religion of Islam have gradually and substantially reduced their numbers. Nowadays, there are about 700 Samaritans left, living in the cities of Nablus and Holon.

 

Prominent Communities

Around three hundred people per square kilometer populate the Land of Israel, living mostly in urban settlements such as towns and cities. Yet, the population distribution is not uniform across the country: the majority of people reside and work in the area along the coastal plain, while the Negev Desert (which makes up over half of the country’s geographical area) is thinly populated.

About 91% of Israel’s inhabitants lead their lives in urban settlements, made up by populations of over 2000 people each. An estimated quarter of them live in one of the four major cities (Jerusalem the capital, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Rishon Le’Tziyon). The biggest city in the country is Jerusalem, with its population being around the figure of 746,300. Some 392,000 people reside and work in Tel Aviv, while over 1.6 million people do so in Tel Aviv’s metropolitan area, which extends all the way up to Herzliya in the north and down to Rishon Le’Tziyon in the south.

The early part of the 20th century gave rise to the development of two types of agricultural settlement which are specific to Israel, namely the kibbutz and the moshav. The first is a community settlement, based on communal ownership of the properties, means of production and consumption shared by its members. The latter is a form of agricultural village combining elements of private individual ownership together with elements of a cooperative, for example mutual financial and social aid along with communal purchases and marketing. In the beginning of the 1990s, following social changes in the political sphere of Israeli society as well as a farming crisis, many of the principles which had guided the moshavim were eroded and the majority of the kibbutzim have also undergone massive reforms, including varying degrees of privatization.

Other forms of settlement which are unique to Israel include the Moshava, which was particularly typical during the beginning of the modern Jewish settlement of the land and could be described as an agricultural settlement of small farms with the means of production remaining private. During the first few years of Israel’s existence, its governments also established a type of urban settlements called development towns, meant to provide a housing solution for the many new (mainly Jewish) immigrants and to carry out a policy of population dispersion across the land. Most of these town were founded far away from Israel’s major urban centers.

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